Monday, September 05, 2005

Project Mulberry

I've been meaning to get around to writing about Linda Sue Park's Project Mulberry all week. But as you know, this week has been a trying one. Here goes...

Julia Song and her best friend Patrick decide to enter a project to the State Fair. Julia's mother suggests raising silk worms. Patrick loves the idea and races ahead with their project. Julia isn't so sure. She wants a project that is more "American" somehow. She tries to sabotage the project in the beginning, but over time elements of their work begin to interest her more and more. Her mom teaches her how to embroider in the Korean way (no knots on the other side of the fabric), she becomes fascinated in watching the silkworms develop, and she makes a new friend in the man who owns the town's only Mulberry tree.

But Julia has a few problems along the way. She wonders about the degree of her mother's racism, deals with a troublesome younger brother, and struggles with her own Korean-American identity. The project's conclusion brings up an ethical issue Julia has trouble dealing with alone.

Julia is a great character, a good kid who just wants understand it all. So much so that she speaks to Linda Sue Park between the chapters, arguing about how the story is told. These interludes are funny, very instructive about the writing process, and young readers will find them surprising and new.

Overall, a great read. I was particularly impressed by Park's handling of race and racism in a way that wasn't preachy or heavy-handed. It was just part of the story and of Julia's life.


ETA (9/7): 9-year old daughter devoured Project Mulberry. She read it in an hour flat--didn't move once. Highly recommended for the 2nd-5th grade group.